Thank you, Eddie [Bocanegra]. I’m so pleased to be here today to close out Day 2 of this conference.
I want to thank Amy Solomon, our fearless leader; Eddie Bocanegra; and the entire OJP CVI [Office of Justice Programs Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative] team for organizing this conference and for their commitment to including the voices of crime victims and survivors in CVI conversations.
Today has been heavy. I have enough self-awareness to know that I am the last speaker after a very long day and that we have all taken in quite a bit of information. Our brains are tired.
I am going to be mercifully brief. You’re welcome.
I’m going to start by being very frank with you.
Victims and survivors are often overlooked in conversations about community violence intervention and criminal justice reform. In communities where violence is so prevalent, there is a tendency to forget that those who commit the harm are often the same ones who experience harm themselves or have suffered trauma as young children and throughout their lives.
I lead the Office for Victims of Crime, an agency where our job is to ensure that crime victims are able to get the resources they need to heal in the aftermath of crime. But too often, a binary view is taken of who is a victim and who is not. We know – you know - it’s not that simple.
At OVC our goal is to make sure that every victim is given the opportunity to heal and to become resilient. Not just some of the victims. Not just white victims. Not just wealthy or privileged victims. ALL of the victims.
When violent crime occurs, it doesn’t hurt just one person. For each act of violence, there is a concentric circle of harm that reverberates through families and communities, sometimes for generations. We must help to prepare victims and survivors for the long, difficult journey ahead. As you know, trauma left unchecked can have serious physical and mental health consequences.
Too many victims and survivors have gone unheard for too long, left alone to figure out what to do next. This leads to hopelessness. We all deserve to feel hope for the future.
The grant funds from OVC served nearly 10 million victims of crime last year. That’s a huge number and we are proud of that. But we are not reaching everyone we should.
When I became the Director of OVC, I heard over and over again from people working in the field that the VOCA crime victim compensation program was just not meeting the needs of all crime victims.
For example, some victims are denied compensation because of previous criminal history or the criminal history of a relative; for some it takes way too long to receive their reimbursement or they were denied for unknown reasons; and for many the process is just too cumbersome and complicated.
I have made reimagining the crime victim compensation program a call to action for OVC. Specifically, OVC intends to replace the current guidelines that govern the funding allocated to state victim compensation programs, which have not been updated in more than 21 years, with a new rule.
The intent is to modernize the guidelines to better respond to the needs of crime victims, with an emphasis on equity and addressing programmatic barriers.
We are working with our many partners to best understand how the guidelines can be strengthened to increase access and equity. Ensuring that the voices of survivors and service providers are part of those conversations has been key and has added immeasurable value to the effort.
As advocates, we have to wedge ourselves into places that some may not think we belong, but we must be adamant that crime survivors have a voice in all places where decisions are being made.
Our plan is to have this done by early 2024. As you can imagine, this undertaking requires a lot of work, a lot of legal wrangling and it’s going to take some time. But that’s what you do to ensure that policies and programs are victim centered and trauma informed and reaching the people that need them most.
That’s one of the reasons I am so pleased that OVC is an active partner in OJP’s CVI work. Our hospital-based victim services programs will enable us to reach survivors of violent crime that may never have received services.
This year, OVC will issue a solicitation to fund national membership organizations for funeral directors, cremation and burial services, and medical examiners/coroners, who may come into contact with the surviving family members of homicide victims.
These professional membership organizations are in a unique position to educate their members about the critical role they play in serving survivors of homicide victims, with the goal of providing increased access especially those in underserved and under-represented communities.
Trauma also impacts all of us who do this work: the advocates, the interrupters, the social workers, counselors, health care professionals, police, and even the grant and program managers. At OVC, we started an inhouse program called “OVC Cares” that provides confidential and professional support to our employees when the exposure to trauma through the work becomes too much.
Remember: being trauma-informed also means taking care of yourselves and taking care of your colleagues. Vicarious trauma is a real thing, so it’s vitally important to have practices in place to mitigate it. OVC has a vicarious trauma toolkit on our website that can help you get your in-house program started. Guess what it’s called? The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit.
In conclusion, I will leave you with this. Mr. Rogers used to say “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Well, I’m looking at the helpers. You are the ones who are with people after their worst moments. You care for them, you treat them, and most importantly, you give them hope.
You give me hope. Thank you.